Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grammy is a Slayer of Rattlesnakes

Dear Munchkins, 
Did you know that your grammy is a slayer of rattlesnakes? Who'd have thought it? But a slayer of rattlesnakes is what I became because once you hold your newborn babes in your arms, you know you will do anything and everything to protect them. When I was having my children, your dads, we lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains on 55 acres, and it was very hot each summer, which meant that from April through October, we ran into many unwelcome rattlesnakes on our property.
What did I know about rattlesnakes before I moved onto our mountain? Almost nothing. I knew they were poisonous and that it was wise to stay away from them, but I had been raised on Disney movies, and I thought all animals were my friends, or could be if I treated them with kindness and respect. I didn't believe in killing any animal.
Alas, Disney does not prepare you for nature "red in tooth and claw."
My first introduction to a rattlesnake was from a distance. I was hugely pregnant with Amy, and it was SO hot that I had stripped down to my panties only. I was watching Gordon clear brush from around the house with a scythe. He pulled back a piece of wood, and out leapt a rattlesnake. I had no idea until that moment that a snake could leap, though I suppose a more accurate word would be spring. Well, it was one angry snake, and it went after Gordon with a vengeance. Gordon was running down the driveway pursued by this snake. When he got to a level spot, he swung his scythe wildly about, trying to fling the snake aside so that he could kill it. It was truly an epic battle. While I watched, I wondered if I was to be a widow before my Amy Angel was born. Finally, Gordon prevailed.

The next summer, I had my first interaction with a rattlesnake. I was carrying Amy across the deck to put her down for a nap when one of our cats acted peculiarly, so peculiarly that I stepped towards it, which made all the difference. When I stepped, I felt movement next to my shoe, looked down, and saw a rattlesnake coiling and rattling. I jumped back, horrified to know that if I had not stepped toward the cat, I would have stepped on the snake and been bitten. For years after, I only wore cowboy boots when outside.

Over the years, we had many near misses with rattlesnakes. We learned they could climb the steps to our deck because we saw one do it. We lost a cat to a rattlesnake, and a dog almost died, but she was a smart dog and stayed still for two weeks, while we gave her water. She lost all her fur, but she lived.

Then, one day, Hugh Evan ran up to tell me there was a rattlesnake on a hay bale. He had been jumping on the hay stacks when the snake started rattling. Gordon was at work, and I didn't dare leave that snake in the barn because the kids played in the barn. Amy stayed in the house to watch Hugh and Grant, who were quite young, and Gavin, who was six or seven, went with me. The rattlesnake was still on the bale of hay and rattling like mad. I had no moment to be afraid for myself. I picked up a pitchfork and pushed down hard, pinning the snake to the hay bale. I had to stand really close, but the pitchfork held him closer to his head, so while he could rattle furiously, he could not strike. Gavin got the only weapon at hand, which was a hoe. I made Gavin stay safely back, and, while pinning the snake with my left hand, with my right hand, I hacked and hacked at that rattlesnake until I got its head off, which I buried deep in the ground so that the dogs could not dig it up and be poisoned. Gavin and I tossed the carcass into the chicken coop because chickens think fresh rattlesnake is a tasty treat.

By the time we got back up to the house, we were late to meet Gordon for lunch, so the kids and I hopped into the van and headed down the mountain. When you have four young children, you don't have much time to think about yourself, so it was quite some time until it hit me that I had actually killed a rattlesnake to protect my children. Wow. I was quite proud of myself.

Only one other time did I kill rattlesnakes and that was when a neighbor called me and asked me to do it. Her toddler had started to walk barefoot out of the house, but the wire doormat seemed to be wiggling, so she picked up her son, slammed the door, and called me. I came to her place armed with a shovel because I don't use guns, and discovered several baby rattlesnakes tangled in her wire mat. I chopped up as many as I could, but one got away into the brush. I had warned our neighbor not to let her children go barefoot outside, but she thought I was exaggerating and being dramatic. After that day, her children wore shoes outside. 

Our family has many more rattlesnake stories, but no others where I slayed one. When I think back on these adventures of rattlesnake slaying, I recall Dallben's words in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, "For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are." Faced with protecting my children and a neighbor's children from poisonous rattlesnakes, I was able to harness my terror of the snakes, and become more than what I was before I had children, which is, bottom line, a mom who does anything and everything to keep her children safe.

Love you, Munchkins,

Grammy, aka Kate